People of faith have been on the streets of London over the weekend, as an act of prophecy against the greatest attack on the vulnerable in society for the last 50 years. Those from many different belief backgrounds, including Christians, joined the 'March for the Alternative' on 26 March 2011.
When we examine the scriptures of most of the world's major faiths, we are faced with a call to defend the poor, and for the rich either to share their wealth or face unpleasant consequences.
The Judaeo-Christian prophets such as Amos castigate those who loll on beds inlaid with ivory, feast on lambs, drink wine by the bowlful and anoint themselves with the richest of oils, but feel no grief for those who struggle. Or to put it in today's parlance, those who pay themselves bonuses to purchase ever-larger yachts, eat at exorbitant restaurants and wear outrageously expensive perfumes, because they're worth it.
Christians for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) have evolved what they call the Common Wealth statement (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/CommonWealthStatement). In it they explore the idea of "fairness", which everyone is in favour of, although not everyone agrees on the content.
The problem, they say, with the government's claims of fairness is that "they leave the essential parameters of economic power and inequality in place". The most detailed analysis of the proposed cuts is that they fall disproportionately on the poorest, including the homeless, those on housing benefit, people on incapacity benefit and women with childcare responsibilities.
Common Wealth asks why companies such as Vodafone and Boots are allowed to evade billions in tax. Some observers estimate that if all the large companies that have accountant armies helping them minimise tax decided to pay what they owe, welfare cuts would be unnecessary. "God did not create people to be the pawns and slaves of economic powers, shifted around by the political arbiters of 'fairness'." Some Muslims have said they find this analysis helpful.
Earlier this year Church Action on Poverty (CAP) launched its campaign to "Close the Gap", between the rich and poor. It says the gap is now "greater than at any time in the last 40 years, over 20 per cent of people in the UK live in poverty, trapped by unjust structures and prejudice, made to pay more for everyday goods and services". "If you oppress the poor," says CAP, quoting Proverbs 14, 31, "you insult their Creator."
On 24 March 1980 Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered as he celebrated mass by gunmen hired by the El Salvador elite to rid them of this turbulent priest who spoke for his country's poor. CAP, with CESJ, organised a service at St Martin in the Fields at 11am on 26 March to mark the anniversary of Romero's death, martyred for challenging the exploitative rich. People then joined the TUC march, arguing for genuine fairness in the cuts which all are facing.
In addition to quoting the Book of Amos, Common Wealth reminds us of Leviticus's teaching that the land – source of all wealth – belongs to God, of Ezekiel's warning of the dangers of false leadership, which ensures the profits of the rich at the poor's expense, and of how scathing is Isaiah about the hypocrisy of those who mark fast days while keeping their labourers at work. Then there is Jesus's parable of the labourers in the vineyard, each of whom received the same living wage at the end of the day, whether they had been given work for 12 hours, six or only one.
That's the kind of society people with faith – or with none – have been working and marching for. That's what it means to be fair.
© David Haslam is a Methodist minister who works on justice issues at local, national and international level. He has been especially concerned in recent years with Dalit Solidarity, and has worked for the churches denominationally and ecumenically in the struggle against racism and discrimination. This article is adapted from his Guardian column with grateful acknowledgment. See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/david-haslam